Friday, October 28, 2011

What's the role of Switzerland in Ethiopia? report from the first Swiss Development Day

The Swiss Ambassador to Ethiopia, Dominik Langenbacher, invited all the Swiss development players to the first Swiss Development day, offering a a great opportunity to network, look for synergies and increase cooperation.
Many NGO involved in education and children were present, but also many NGOs invovled with natural resource management. Also representative from the National Centre of Competence in Research : North-South and University of Bern were present.

Thanks to the Ambassador and probably many other people, and maybe also thanks to the drought and the media sharing terrible images from this part of the world, the Horn of Africa is getting on the top of the Swiss political agenda. Next to the emergency humanitarian support from Switzerland to the region, a proposal to the Swiss parliament to be voted in August 2012 is in preparation. This proposal foresees to make the Horn of Africa a program area. This implies that the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), would be running significant projects in this area.

The major focus proposed for the area is agriculture and livelihoods, followed by health and governance. Also two "multilateral topics" for which Switzerland would like to contribute to are : a water initiative and food security. This sounds very promising as good natural resource management and agriculture are nowadays seen as the most contributing to better livelihoods in Ethiopia.

Even if Horn of Africa would not become a program area there is scope for better cooperation between the players, also between the scientific players. The Embassy already announced a meeting with all the scientific players! I hope that this day was the beginning of a better cooperation of the CGIAR (ILRI/IWMI and others) with the Swiss Research and Swiss Development cooperation.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : can mushrooms save the world?

Mushrooms are very funny plants, and can potentially save the world. Here is a very inspiring TED talk, that inspired me a lot

I liked the idea that mushrooms can save the world, but issues are very different in Ethiopia where farmers in Ethiopia face food insecurity, and have a lack of proteins  in their diet

When I was walking in the fields, I remembered this inspiring talk... . Mushrooms sound like a miracle solution in Ethiopia too : it is a source of protein and relatively easy to grow... so I dug into it. I met a very interesting lecturer at Bahir Dar University. He started his own company that produces mushrooms spores, and he gives training people to grow mushrooms. He focuses on urban areas, where people grow mushrooms for the big hotels in Bahir Dar.
See the website of the company
Mushrooms, both in Addis and Bahir Dar are very scarce and when available there are very expensive. If one manages to build up a well functioning short supply chain, then it is a very good business that could lift some people out of poverty.
But even without market access, mushroom could complete a diet in a subsistence farm household and contribute to food security. So I am now wondering, what are there ways to bring mushrooms to Ethiopian rural areas as a real pro-poor solution? My former housemate in the Netherlands, grows a lot of mushrooms with very simple techniques. I hope to have some time soon to check what would be needed to adjust these simple techniques to Ethiopian conditions, in which one needs to consider water shortages, as well as a very restricted set of available inputs to grow mushrooms.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some good explanations on the economics of droughts

I started this morning with reading the USaid global water newsletter, and found a very interesting article on the the economics of drought.
I think one lesson to retain is, that many farmers living in a crop-livestock mixed system produce food to feed their families and consequently are not affected to much by food price volatility. On the contrary, pastoralists who mostly live in the the drought affected zone, do rely on food markets to access food. They sell livestock to get cash with which they then buy staple food. In time of droughts, livestock prices collapse (excess supply because too many people need to sell) and staple food prices increase (supply shortage), leaving people hungry. Interventions should therefore aim at stabilizing prices, the article shows how the Ethiopian government does this with the productive safety net program.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : is water harvesting a solution?

The Ethiopian highland is a high potential area for agriculture, with good annual rainfall and as discussed in a previous post, Ethiopia could potentially feed the world rather than getting food aid. One problem is that rainfall is very unevenly distributed during the year. During the rainy season, flooding and erosion due to over saturated soil are the major challenges faced by farmers. In the dry season, dry spells are the major reason for crop failure. So one of the appealing solution is collect water in the rainy season and use it during the dry spell for supplementary irrigation of crop. These technologies are usually referred to as "water harvesting" technologies and encompasses technologies such as roof water harvesting, small private ponds, communal ponds, cisterns and so on.

At the Bahir Dar workshop the representative of the Sustainable Water Harvesting and Institutional Strenghthening in Amhara (SWISA) has shown a cost benefit analysis that suggests that only bigger and therefore generally communal infrastructure are worthwhile. In addition, he has shown that  most of the existing water harvesting structures are not used for supplementary irrigation, but for drinking water for livestock. This suggests that we should be very careful about out-scaling water harvesting structures, because their use might be very different compared to what literature suggest. As a consequences impacts could be very different that one might assume and feedbacks in the crop-livestock farming system unexpected.

Monday, October 17, 2011

GIS training for Agricultural Research Centers ONLINE

Some months ago, I reported from the GIS training that I developed in very close collaboration with ARARI (Amhara Region Agricultural Research Institute). The training was a great success, mainly because practical trainings are rare in Ethiopia.
The training will be rerun twice in the next six months by the newly created Nile Authority. The whole training manual has been revised, and a trainers' manual has been developed,  so that GIS specialist can take the training over without needing to invest too much time.
But these trainings will never cover the whole GIS demand of the area. In combination, the participants' and the trainers' manual students who cannot joint a training, can discover GIS on their own.
The GIS training assumes that the participant has access to ArcGIS software, and a garmin GPS.
The training can be found under : 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bahir Dar reporting series : a price information system

Last week, I participated in the stakeholder workshop organized by my project in Bahir Dar. The meeting served presenting preliminary results to partners and stakeholder to discuss and learn.
Whereas I did not learn so much about rainwater as such, through discussions with partners, stakeholder and other people I met during my stay, some issues emerged. Issues I did not think of in this way before. Therefore I will post in the following weeks a Bahir Dar reporting series that shortly raises the issues that emerged and questions their implication for the Ethiopian context.

Today, it is about a price information system for agricultural products

In Ethiopia, some project try to convince farmer to grow new commodities, as for example onions. The first farmers who start to do this can actually make a good profit. So other farmers see this and try to do the same. Some year so many farmers grow the commodity, that the market is over flooded, price collapse and farmer make losses. This is what happened with the onions this year. Last year onion price were high so every one planted onions, the price collapse, and I get a very very hard time to buy carrot in Addis in the shops. Farmers could have diversified, some of them could have planted carrots, tomatoes or salads and all would have made a good living. Following the IPMS project (one of the project that introduced the onions), this situation shows the clear need for a market information system. I am really wondering how you could concretely implement this.
Worldwide agricultural price volatility is problematic and can bring smallholders into difficult situations. Today for worldwide commodities such as wheat maize, future contracts are investigated as a solution to decrease world price volatility. Could this be an option for a smaller scale, and be applied in Ethiopia to avoid too high price volatility for horticultural products?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

school feeding program in Germany?

Recently I had a post about the smart ways to fight famines. One of the option was the school feeding program, as children especially girls would go to school in order to get food. These girls will stay in school longer, will be healthier and will not get married too early. This girl will get less and more healthy children. Looks like a very smart way to address famine. I was very astonished to discover that this smart option is actually also implemented in Europe to support to poorest families. The only difference is, in the developing world it is mainly implemented in the rural world, whereas in Europe it is implemented in cities.